Leanne Best: "I Never Really Wanted To Be An Actress Actually"
Interview by Carl Marsh
You recently appeared in the surprise hit TV drama Home Fires, you and the rest of the cast must be over the moon at how well it was received and reviewed? And can we expect you in series two?
I was, and yes you can! It was a great job, I had so much fun filming, and I felt really passionately about it, and the people I was working with. I'm really pleased we get to do it again, and I'm excited to see what happens to Teresa next.
Surely you must have some funny stories from when you were filming Home Fires that you can tell here?
Me and Fenella Woolgar, who plays Alison are championship gigglers... Between us and the dog it was a bit raucous. We had some pretty heavy scenes to film but I've not had much more fun on a set to be honest... So no specifics really, just general bad behaviour.
You also appeared recently in Fortitude as Celia Donnelly, and also in Ripper Street as Jane Cobden, such different roles from your character in Home Fires, so of the three, which relates closest to your personality?
I suppose they are all a little like me in some way. Celia is a strong family woman who puts those relationships at the centre of her life, Teresa is a working class girl from Liverpool who's open to adventure and change, and Jane's a card carrying feminist! I think all characters stem from you, you are the bare bones of the person you are being asked to play, you are your raw materials at work. That being said, I'm often surprised. There have been plenty of occasions when I've played a character who I thought was nothing like me and the opposite turns out to be true, and vice versa.
Recently you did a YOUYOU Mentoring event at Keats House with the likes of Nicholas Pinnock, Laura Pradelska, Daisy Lewis and Georgina Campbell. This is a cause surely close to your heart, and I commend you and everyone involved with YOUYOU Mentoring. For those reading this, what are YOUYOU Mentoring all about, and how it helps all those involved?
It was such a brilliant event. I was really honoured to be asked. YOUYOU Mentoring places young people in touch with professionals working in the industry, and they provide support, advice and a platform for them to explore their talent and abilities. I read a story by a young woman (Louella Ward) who had been mentored by the scheme. She's so talented, and it was a real privilege to have the chance to read her work and be involved in that process.
With books for yourself, what is your preference when deciding what to read?
Fiction is my first port of call. I spend hours perusing! I'll head for authors I know and love or that I've been recommended, and then I'll really take my time choosing a few that take my fancy. Some of the novels that I've come to love the most were chance encounters.
So of those, what stands out as your number one choice?
I couldn't pick a favourite. I have novels I return to time and again, but I'm forever falling in love with the next one...I'm fickle!!
The first time I read 'Of Love and Other Demons', I was about seventeen and it broke my heart, so that would have to be one. The Handmaids Tale by Maragaret Atwood another. The God of Small Things by Arundethi Roy I've read again and again!, Grapes of Wrath, love a bit of Paul Auster, What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt is in there. How long have you got!
Recently I read The Son by Philip Meyer, and was floored by it. Just floored, so that would have to be a new edition to the hit list.
Would poetry also be a love of yours?
I love poetry. As a teenager I was in already in the bell jar as my Mum will tell you! Sylvia Plath and me were a match made in heaven, and I've never forgotten how it made me feel the first time I read her work. If I'm working there are usually poems stuck all over my notebooks and dressing room. Different writers. They change, depending on the work that I'm doing, and who I have to be each time.
People should read more shouldn’t they?
If you could live a thousand other lives why wouldn't you. Just take a peek.
Can we ever expect a book written by yourself?
Not anytime soon.. But never say never.
How did you get into acting, what is your story, how did you start, and was it always your intention to become an actress?
I never really wanted to be an actress actually. I did some performing at college but it was never a passion. I was working in a cafe when I auditioned for a summer school at LIPA. I was a bit of a daydreamer and was saving to travel but had no real plans. My mum cut an advert out of the local paper, and I went along to a summer school open call as going meant I’d have 6 weeks working on Arthur Miller and Shakespeare. Sounds daft to say now but the acting wasn't really the most interesting part of it for me at the time. I fell in love with it pretty quickly. I played Abigail in The Crucible and was awed by the experience. At the end of the course, the teacher suggested I should go to drama school, and then they gave me an audition for their acting course and I got a place. That was that really. Ignorance is bliss, and I had no idea what I was doing or what I was letting myself in for!
I know you come from Liverpool, and Liverpool is one amazing city, do you get to go back often, and would you love to be in a TV series filmed there? I don’t expect Bread or Brookside to make a return but I do feel Liverpool needs a new weekly show filmed there, don’t you?
It certainly is.. And it's packed to the rafters with talent, I think story telling is in the blood at home whatever the medium. I learnt my trade as an actress in Liverpool as I was lucky enough to work a lot back home in the theatre, and was back there recently in the 35th anniversary production of Educating Rita. It is such a great place to perform. Yeah, I wouldn't mind being in a remake of the Liver Birds. My Nan would love it! For the record I still think Bread has got legs.
Now that Home Fires has finished on our TV screens for the moment, what can we expect to see you in next?
I've just finished filming Line of Duty in Belfast, and a season of films based on the works of HG Wells for Sky Arts, and I am currently working on a new drama for the BBC in London with Adrian Lester and Sophie Okonedo. Ripper Street is back on the telly again at the moment, so I pop up in that too, and I've got a few more bits and pieces coming out at the end of the year.
How do you stay motivated now that you are a full time (and much in demand) actress, what gets you out of bed each day, and what advice can you give to others to possibly have a career like yours?
I have to pay my rent principally! I love what I do but I'm probably not the best person to ask for careers advice. I work really hard, and I care about it absolutely with everything I have but I have to be honest and say, I didn't plan any of it. There have been a few occasions when I should have gone with my head over my heart but I went with the heart... And those were the times when something really special happened. That's about the best I've got in my locker kids when it comes to planning my next move!
So if anyone is struggling or wanting to be actor/actress out there, what can you offer?
Again I'm probably not the best one to give careers advice! We are all just doing our best and trying to figure it out. Remember why you love it, do the best you can with what you've got and go for it. Be open, diligent, and committed. Use your whole heart. Don't eat the yellow snow. READ!
What 3 things make you angry?
I switch my phone to silent and misplace it immediately, about 10 times a day!
And 3 things that make you happy?
Wide open spaces.
Last question, if you were an animal, what would it be, and why?
I've had a bit of a fixation with Wolves since I was a kid. I have pictures of them all over my house, so I'd give that a go, although for the record I think Stevie Nicks is my spirit animal.